Thursday, June 16, 2016

Killing Mommy, a.k.a. Deadly Daughters (NB Thrilling Films 7/Lifetime, 2016)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The Lifetime “world premiere” on Saturday, June 11 was Killing Mommy, a.k.a. Deadly Daughters, a surprisingly engaging thriller with a big twist about two-thirds of the way through (which was, alas, “spoiled” by the Lifetime trailer for the film — more on that later), “presented” by Pierre David and Tom Berry (names that have previously been associated with a lot of Lifetime thrillers that have run the gamut from suspenseful to silly) and directed by Curtis James Crawford and Anthony Dufresne from a script by Trent Haaga. It’s slow going at first mainly because there isn’t anyone in it we actually like: it’s about a mother and her two grown (25-year-old) twin daughters, though the twins don’t look that much alike, at least partly because they’re deliberately costumed differently to reflect their lifestyles. Mom is Eve Hanson (Claire Rankin), who’s about to marry Winston Berlin (Rob Stewart), the guy she’s been dating for four years since her previous husband Harlan (Jeff Teravainen) died in a bizarre accident: he was restoring a 1965 Mustang as a birthday present for one of his daughters when the jack that was holding the car up gave way and the car fell on him and crushed him. The daughters are Juliana (Yvonne Zima), who wears her hair long and colors it auburn (mom is blonde) and is a wanna-be fashionista who’s tearing through the family fortune left behind by her self-made father while ostensibly studying to be a fashion designer; and Deborah — usually called “Deb” and also played by Yvonne Zima — who has black hair that makes her look like she’s auditioning to play Patti Smith in a biopic and generally wears a black leather jacket, a black T-shirt hailing the joys of LSD, and black jeans. She’s also got a ring piercing on her lower lip. (Cinthia Burke and her associates in the makeup department deserve kudos for making the two Zimas look similar when they’re supposed to and dramatically different when they’re supposed to.) None of these women come off as sympathetic characters — mom seems like a controlling bitch, Juliana a spoiled one and Deb someone who’s going out of her way to rebel by drinking, picking up sleazy guys at a dive bar, and giving herself points for being “clean” because at least she isn’t doing “hard drugs” anymore.

Mom’s boyfriend Winston doesn’t come off any better; he’s obviously a gold-digger who’s just after Eve for her money, which he’s already lost $100,000 of in a bad stock deal, which hasn’t stopped him from pestering her for control over the rest of the fortune. Given the title, the main suspense early on is over which sister is going to kill mom, or try to, for her money — Juliana, Deb or both of them in combination — and it seems to be Deb when we see her actually try to run her mom down in a parking lot. Only about two-thirds of the way through writer Haaga pulls the big switcheroo — the woman who tried to run Eve down with Deb’s car is not Deb but Juliana, who’s disguised herself as Deb and not only committed attempted murder against mom (the idea is so mom would see her and blame all the bad stuff that’s happening on Deb) but also dressed as Deb to seduce Deb’s raunchy boyfriend Deke (Garrett Hnatiuk), do drugs with him and get him to buy her a gun. The idea is that Juliana will kill both mom and Deb — whom she’s kidnapped and has tied to a chair in the garage at Winston’s cabin in the mountains, a location Deb didn’t know existed — and try to pass it off as a murder-suicide in which Deb killed her mom and then herself. Only during those long stretches in which Juliana left her tied up in the garage while she disguised herself as Deb and left a trail a mile long (including taking sexually explicit photos of herself with Deke and texting them to mom), Deb has knocked the chair to the floor and slowly managed to extricate herself from her sister’s bondage.

Meanwhile Juliana has knocked off Deke after he recognized that she wasn’t Deb — the real Deb had a tattoo on her ass that Juliana didn’t know about — she ties him to Deb’s bed as if they’re going to do an S/M bondage scene and then strangles him for real, leaving the body to be discovered by mom and Juliana in her own identity and thereby adding murder to the list of crimes of which Deb is supposedly guilty. It all comes down to a final confrontation at the cabin, in which Juliana is surprised that Deb has freed herself. They both reach for the gun (Maurine Watkins, your plagiarism attorney thanks you for no fewer than 12 lakeside cabins his legal work for you has paid for) and in the end mom grabs a gun of her own (one her late husband kept around the house for protection and which she brought with her thinking she was going to have to defend herself against Deb), holds it on Deb and seems ready to see the situation the way Juliana wants her to until Juliana makes a slip. She refers to the spray-painted vandalism on Winston’s car just before he had to go to the airport for a business trip — the word “Dad” with an “X” through it to indicate Deb would never regard Winston as her father — and mom realizes that though she told Juliana that Winston’s car had been vandalized, she’d never told Juliana what was spray-painted on the car. Mom suddenly realizes that Deb is telling the truth and it’s Juliana who means to kill her, and mom fires her gun … and the screen goes black. When it resumes a genuinely cleaned-up Deb is attending her mom’s wedding to Winston and has a boyfriend of her own (the sort of tall, lanky guy Lifetime likes to cast as their “good” or innocent-victim husbands, differing from their usual type only in being younger and having a well-trimmed beard), and the scene cuts to the prison were Juliana is serving time — obviously mom was a good enough shot she was able merely to incapacitate Juliana instead of kill her. Juliana is wearing a hair net and working in the prison kitchen, and when she filches a roll from one of the trays she’s confronted by a butch Lesbian (Donna St. Jean) who makes her give her the roll and is obviously intending to make Juliana her prison “bitch.”

Though hamstrung by a plot that’s all too predictable — especially since what writer Haaga obviously intended as a big surprise was given away in the trailer, which includes Juliana’s big speech to the captive Deb explaining that she regards mom’s fortune as rightfully hers and she’s not going to let mom deprive her of it by marrying a gold-digger who’s just going to piss it away (one gets the impression that the well-meaning but financially naïve Winston is the sort of person who would enroll in Trump University and pay the full $35,000 or more) — Killing Mommy is great sleazy fun, not only because the actor playing Deke is the most genuinely handsome male in the film despite the stringy blond hair and scraggly beard he’s outfitted with to make him look skuzzier (and the actor playing Winston is genuinely handsome and was also fun for this old queen to look at!) but because the characterizations are well drawn and genuinely complex even though our suspicion, based on hearing him talked about through the movie, that the late husband would be the only sympathetic character in the dramatis personae is borne out the one time we see him, in a flashback that reveals that — as we suspected all along — he was actually murdered by Juliana. He’d made the mistake of lecturing her about her spending while he was working on the car for her sister (he’d bought Juliana a new car but Deb wanted something with more “character” and something that reflected her dad’s labor of love instead of just his checkbook) and then making himself vulnerable by immediately disappearing under the car to work on it, which gave Juliana the opportunity to release the jack, thereby crushing him, and call it in to 911 and report it as an “accident.” The ending is supposed to be happy but one wonders just how quickly the surviving members of the family are going to be broke from Winston’s clueless speculations in the financial markets — and it’s interesting to ponder the sorts of possibilities that would raise for a sequel, especially if Juliana gets out of prison or escapes and returns to avenge herself!